2018 Desmond Tutu Award for HIV Prevention & Human Rights: Linda-Gail Bekker

Prof. Linda-Gail Bekker at HIVR4P 21-25 October 2018, Madrid, Spain • Photo © HIVR4P/ Leon Gutierrez

The 2018 Desmond Tutu Award for HIV Prevention Research and Human Rights was presented to HIV researcher, physician and community advocate Linda-Gail Bekker of Cape Town, South Africa. The presentation was made at the Opening Plenary of this year’s HIV Research for Prevention Conference (HIVR4P 2018) on Monday, October 22, in Madrid, Spain.

Named in honor of South African cleric Desmond Tutu, one of the leading global advocates for HIV prevention, the Tutu award is presented every two years to an individual or organization that has worked to advance both HIV prevention research and the human rights of people affected by HIV.

HIVR4P Co-chair Z Mike Chirenje of the University of Zimbabwe was effusive in his praise of Bekker. “Linda-Gail Bekker is a tireless and innovative leader of efforts to ensure effective HIV prevention for all,” he said. “From her clinics in the impoverished Masiphumelele and New Crossroads townships of Cape Town, to her role as chief operating officer of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation and in her capacity as immediate past president of the International AIDS Society, Linda-Gail’s fearless advocacy and personalized models of care have saved lives and helped to break down barriers of stigma and discrimination in HIV prevention.”

Bekker established user-friendly clinics throughout South Africa that offer services that welcome all, especially young women and girls, men who have sex with men, and others traditionally overlooked by healthcare systems. The mobile “Tutu Testers” she has championed bring voluntary HIV testing, counseling and information to underserved communities. Her clinics have provided mundane but important services such as babysitting and clothes washing to individuals who could not otherwise keep their appointments.

At the same time Bekker, Professor of Medicine at the University of Cape Town, has co-led international research studies to develop new HIV prevention methods, including HIV vaccines, vaginal rings for HIV prevention, and oral and injectable pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Recently, as international scientific chair of the AIDS 2018 conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Bekker spoke on a global stage in support of increased financial and political support for HIV prevention research.>p>

Previous recipients of the Desmond Tutu Award for HIV Prevention and Human Rights include Archbishop Tutu himself, who received the first award in 2014, and Ambassador Deborah Birx, Coordinator of the U.S. Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and Director of PEPFAR, in 2016.

“I am both delighted and hugely honored to accept this award,” said Linda-Gail Bekker, “especially following in the footsteps of wonderful people like the Archbishop and Ambassador Birx. This award reminds us that, ultimately, all the work we do is to improve the lives and well-being of men, women and young people—fellow human beings everywhere—and that’s what really matters.”

“Linda-Gail Bekker reminds us every day that the goals of stopping HIV and protecting the rights of everyone affected by the epidemic are inextricably linked,” said HIVR4P Co-chair Susan Buchbinder of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “Her belief in the dignity of all people is the key to her effectiveness—whether she is holding political leaders to account in international policy-making forums or working one-on-one with patients in the clinic.”

HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P) is the world’s only scientific meeting dedicated exclusively to biomedical HIV prevention, including vaccines, antibodies, microbicides, treatment as prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and new forms of HIV prevention. Conference funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, U.S. National Institutes of Health, Gilead, ViiV Healthcare, anRs (French Agency for Research on AIDS & Viral Hepatitis), Janssen, GSK, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Gobierno de Espana, Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovacion y Universidades, International Partnership for Microbicides, MSD, and the South African Medical Research Council.

For more information, visit: www.hivr4p.org.

—Reporting by Hank Trout

Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-eight-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.